Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Is home to Billy Eckstine, I. Irving Davidson, Tom Wilson, Cyril Wecht and my old college roomate, who I know I always have a couch to sleep on in Pittsburgh.

What a great town, full of unique little neighborhoods and nice people who are proud of their sports teams.

Cyril even noted that he was glas the Steelers football team played Sunday night so he didn't have to compete with them.

I had been to Pittsburgh many times over the years, as it was a convenient pit stop between college at Dayton, Ohio and home in Jersey. I had even visited with Cyril at his coronor's office in the late 80s, and discussed forming what would become COPA.

After being indicted by the feds for what I understand to be misuse of public funds, and getting a hung jury at trial, Wecht's court case is not yet over. There was little discusison about it at the conference, at least in my presence, but from what people said around town, he shouldn't be retried, especially without new evidence, though it still might happen.

Cyril was in attendance the entire weekend and proved a gracious host.

Wecht Conference Synopsis:

The Cyril H. Wecht Institute of Forensic Science and Law National Symposium – Making Sense of the Sixties – A National Symposium on the Assassinations and Political Legacies of Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert F. Kennedy and John F. Kennedy (Pittsburgh, Pa., October 3-5, 2008)

This was a symposium mind you, not your typically dreary conference on some esoteric subject.

Symposium means to "drink together," (1) and that is something that makes the situation more casual, but not belittle the magnitude, importance and immediate significance of the subject matter, the historical essence of the era – the political assassinations that remain unresolved today.

As for 'forensic," there are two definitions of the word, one being "public discussion and debate" while the other " belonging to, used in, or suitable to courts of judicature" or "relating to or dealing with the application of scientific knowledge to legal problems."

Forensic science involves the application of the sciences to answer questions of interest to the legal system, and that's what this symposium was all about, although there was a lot of the debatable use of the term going on as well.

It's a shame that some of those who were invited who could have provided some of the debateable forensic fireworks, declined invitations to attend, despite being offered airfare, meals and accomidations. It's a shame that Vincent Bugliosi, G. Robert Blakey and Gerald Posner didn't have the same balls that Arlen Specter had when he made a presentation at a Wecht conference here five years ago. This symposium was a follow up on that one, and they appear to be planning another one in five years to follow up on this one.

As the program sets the stage:

"Forty years after the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., and presidential hopefull Robert F. Kennedy, and 45 years following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, questions still abound about both the circumstances and impact of their murders."

"Were these shootings really just the acts of lone gunman, as the history books have so long advocated? Or are there clues in these crimes thatmight yet prove what so many have come to believe bvased on decades of research, analysis nad publicaiton – that James Earl Ray, Sirhan Bishara Siran and Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone?"

"Following up on the historic 2003 conference on the 40 anniversary of the JFK assassination, The Cyril H. Wecht Insitute of Forensic Science and Law is proud to have convenend many of the top experets and authors on the JFK, RFK and MLK assassinations and the times in which they occurred for three days of presentations, and panal discussions and film screenings."

"From matters of ballistics and acoustics to questions of conspiracy and cover-up, these three cases present fascinating and important topics for students of all ages and disciplines."

Missed more so than the opposition were Bill Turner, Jimmy D and Thompson, the acoustics guy, who would have rounded out this symposium on both fronts.

While I am less interested in the assassinations of MLK and RFK, preferring to concentrate on solving one murder at a time, and the belief that if JFK's murder was correctly investigated and prosecuted, the other two wouln't have happened at all, the first two days were dedicated for the most part to MLK and RFK.

Try as I might to get there, I missed most of the first day's program, which included Peter Dale Scott's opening talk on "The Assassinations of the Sixties as 'Deep Events'," but I later ran into him and read his prepared remarkes and got the jist of it.

All of the programs were audio recorded and videotaped, and some will be made available via the symposium's web site, as well as other web sites, including Mary Ferrell and COPA, and some may be put on YouTube, although Ben Wecht said he didn't get permissions from all the presenters to do so.

Isaac Farris, Jr., Jim Lesar, Esq., Judge Joe Brown, William Pepper, Esq. and David Wrone all made presentations on MLK in the morning of the first day before Shane O'Sullivan, David Talbot and Ted Charach began discussing the murder of RFK and a screening of Charach's film The Second Gun.

Although I got there late, it doesn't seem that there's much going on with the MLK case, other than John Judge trying to get the HSCA MLK records released. Brown wants to test the alleged murder rifle some more and William Pepper and Joe Brown argued over where the shots came from, and I later had an interesting discussion with the good Memphis Judge who I knew from previous occassions in Dallas. But for the most part, I think MLK, other than the dispositon of the records, has faded into history. That's not the case with RFK and JFK, which are still developing hot trails worth pursuing.

Godfrey Isaac, Esq. opened the proceedings on Saturday morning with a talk on "The Signifance and Effects of the Assassinstions," followed by Robert Blair Kaiser, whose presentation was titled "I Found the Fingerprints of Others All Over This Assassin," and whose book on the RFK assassination was generally regarded as the best on the topic.

Pepper's talk was on "Sirhan Sirhan: A Case for the Defense," while Lisa Pease focused on "The CIA and the RFK Assassination," the text of which she said would be posted on the internet asap and may be up somewhere already.

It seems a lot of JFK assassination researchers and writers went on to examine and write about the murder of RFK, like Lisa, Phil Melanson, Dan Moldea and Larry Hancock, to name a few, but I tried to avoid that urge, though I now believe there are a number of connections between both cases, and ultimately they may have been victims of the same pepetrators.

While JFK and MLK were both killed by snipers, the RFK case is simlilar to the assassinaiton of President Kennedy in the dispute over the number of shots, the probability of a second gunman, and the legal validity of the acoustical evidence of the actual crimes.

One of the more interesting presentaions of the day was "An Open and Shut Case: How A Rush to Judgement Failed in the Investigation of the Death of Robert F. Kennedy," by Philip Van Praag, Paul Schrade and the Honorable Robert Joling.

Joling is a retired municipal judge, Paul Schrade is a former RFK aide and one of the shooting victims, while Van Praag is an audio specialist who helped locate a previously unknown audio cassette recording of the assassination.

These guys are sharp, seem to know what they've got, and are shopping around for a place to go with it, but their impressive slide show also claims copyright, they are the primary ones who won't permit a tape of their lecture put on the internet, and have a book under the same title "An Open and Shut Case: How A Rush to Judgement….," which they were selling for fifty bucks, so I won't be reviewing it.

Van Praag wrote a book called "The Evolution of the Audio Recorder," so he knows his acoustics, which come into serious play because they somehow discovered an audio tape recording of the assassinsiton (in FBI files), obtained a copy of it and then tracked down the original in Europe.

This young European reporter (Pruszynski) had placed his cassette recorder and microphone at the podium RFK used to give his speech, and can be seen in filimed news footage retreving it, and then following RFK into the pantry, leaving the recorder on, and picking up a lot of background sounds, including the gunshots.

With some kind of oscilloscope they could identify thirteen distinct gunshots on the tape, though they suspect there were fourteen shots because the last shot was drowned out by sceams.

Of course this would preclude SBS from being a lone gunman since his revolver only carried eight bullets. The medical examiner's report, which says the fatal head shot was from less than an inch away from behind the ear, while SBS was three to four feet in front of RFK, makes it unlikely SBS fired the fatal shots.

It seems they obtained a gun and tape recorder of the same makes and models and duplicated shots, and also tested and recorded firecrackers and popped ballons, sounds they also ran through their oscilliscope and could easily differenciate the difference because the gunshot created echos that were picked up by the recorder and illiustrated on the meter while the firecrackers and poped ballon were simply sharp spiles with no aftershocks.

Thanks to Shane O'Sullivan for pointing out that you can find more details on their work at-

Also seen new epilogue to SOS's RFK assassination film.

Ted Churah has been saying for years, decades, that the second gun belonged to the other primary suspect, private security guard Thane Eugsne Cesar, who carried a simliar weapon of the same .22 caliber, and was seen by witnesses to have fired his gun. Cesar also claimed to have sold his .22 before the assassination, but a sales receipt was presented that is dated two months after the murder. "Operation Tinker Toy is Mr. Charach's search for and secret testing and authentication of the second gun after it had lain for almost three decades in an Arkansas swamp."

Although I wasn't interested when he told me, I now find it interesting that Dan Moldea is godfather to Thane Eugene Cesar's son, and Dan insists, and has written a book about how SBS killed RFK by himself because of RFK's policies towards Israel.

Of course this is the official version of events, which is also questioned by attorney Godfrey Isaac, Esq., who has represented SBS, LA coroner Dr. Thomas T. Noguchi, Judy Garland, Anthony Quinn, Charles Colson and Phil Spector. Isaac, during the panel discussion, noted that when SBS asked him to represent him, Isaac said, "Well, you know that I am Jewish," to which SBS replied, "What's that got to do with it?" So much for the alleged motive.

Cyril Wecht was quick to point out that Isaac wasn't the first Jewish lawyer SBS asked to represent him, as Cyril says he got a phone call from SBS too.

The panel discusion on "Legal and Scientific Issues in the Assassination of RFK" was very enlightening, and moderated by David Talbot, who I had a chance to sit down and discuss a few issues.

Although he didn't stick around for the second day's events, William Pepper is now representing SBS and is preparing for a civil trial, similar to the one he did in Memphis on the King case, and with the support of the King family.

One of the most important points Cyril Wecht made was that in viewing the successes of the MLK civil trial, of paramount importance was the role of the family of the victim, which has a lot more sway with the legal system than petitions from ordinary citizens.

Paul Schrade, a shooting victim of RFK's killers, is also a close friend of the Kennedy family, and he says they continue to repeat the mantra that RFK began in the aftermath of Dallas. "Let's leave what's behind us and go on." While he has made some inroads in discussions with some of the family, Schrade is not optomistic, though he promised to bring up the issues again and that some of the RFK family are more open to persuasion than others.

Certainly as a victim himself, Schrade doesn't need the Kennedy's permission to pursue a new legal avenue in this case, and it seems they are serously looking for a legal venue to present the new acoustical evidence they've developed, which together with new witness testimony, and Charach's gun, might have enough to pry open the case.

When I got the opportunity, I asked this "legal and scientific" panel why they didn't take their case to a grand jury, and Charach sighed and went into a spiel about the LA DA and how he won't ever do anything.

Judge Joling however, after railing against "conspiracy theories," said that they were going to meet with the LA DA and discuss the idea of trying to get a grand jury going, but he too was pesamistic about the possibility. Joling did say, that the US legal system "isn't about truth and justice, it's about due process," which says a lot in a few words. The key is to get the due process going and keeping it on track.

There was also a screening of the film RFK and a discussion led by William Law. Shane O'Sullvan made some interesting contributions, though he is a little contrite over his misidentificaiton of the CIA officers at the Ambassador, but he had a "live and learn" attitude about it all. Although he intends to keep up with the RFK assassinaition developments, he said he is moving on to another subject, the radicals of the Sixties, or maybe it was the children of the radicals of the Sixties. I asked him to check in here and fill us in and he said he would, especially so since the emergence of Sixties radicals in the presidential race.

They began early Sunday morning, the final day, with Dr. Gary Aguilar, whose talk "From Posner to Bugliosi, A Rogues Gallery of Lone Nut Theorists," was a fine rebuttle to the pronounced absence of both the Poz and the Bug, and I might add, Dr. Ken Rahn and Max Holland, who would have added some additonal forensick zing to the proceedings.

Dr. Aguilar's talk was of the forensic debate variety and was quite fitting, thank you Gary, who was appropriately followed by Joan Mellen, who tried to answer the question "Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald?.

[See: Joan Mellen on Oswald]

Without rehashing all of her Garrison and New Orleans material, Joan gave a fairly accurate portrayal of Oswald, and included a lot of little but fascinating tidbits, defining him as a covert intelligence operative, but then concluding that he was CIA all the way, which I disagree with - I think Oswald was ONI all the way from pre-USMC days overlooked by Dr. Herzog and Big Brothers. The CIA are the intelligence community fall guys for ONI and ohters.

The facilities at Duquesne are really wonderful, and they had the featured speaker on closed circuit TV in the foyer and lounge area, where I watched Joan give her talk while sitting back drinking coffee with Erik Randich, Ph.D., a forensic materials scientist, who was up next.

I noticed in the program that Roger Feinman was going to give a talk on "Problems and Materials I Case Management, Crime Scene and Firearms Investigation: The Murder of J.D. Tippit" after Erik Randich gave his talk on "A Reassessment of the Bullet Lead Evidence in the Asssassination of John F. Kennedy."

So I asked Randich if he has ever evalauted the bullets and ballistics in the Tippit murder.

"Whose Tippit?" he asked.

"You see, I'm a scientist," he said, explaining that he's not a historian or researcher so he doesn't know much about these cases, other than the science of metals, about which he knows a lot.

I remember Stu Wexler arguing with Ken Rahn at a DC confernce a few years ago, with Rahn basing much of his case on the analysis of lead fragments and bullets conducted by V. P. Guinn for the Warren Commission.

Guinn's Neurton Activation Analysis (NAA) is often cited as evidence to support the lone gunman scenario, and the same science has been used in some two hundred or so court cases over the years, all of which had to be thrown out recenlty because Erik Randich suddenly put an end to this "proof" by exposing the science as flawed.

While Guinn never consulted a metallurgist or materials scientist, Randich was asked to review the numbers referenced by Guinn and discovered that many footnotes didn't support what he was saying, and that Guinn only used three samples when Randich used the same procedure six times and found discrepencies.

Randich's review and experiments led him to conclude that the "1-50 mg sample size is not adequate to reliably sample a WCC M-C soft lead bullet for composition, and microsegregation readly explains the small variations in antimony content among the samples – both the JFK fragments and WCC comparison bullets.

Randich also concluded that, "Variability in Guinn's copper data was real and is expected with poor sampling methodology, and silver sand antimony data show Oswald's rifle and Walker bullets probably came from a different source (s?) than car fragments and bullets."

"The composition analysis of the bullet fragments is inconclusive; Pertinent uncertainties were ignored, and considering Guinn's data by itself, there could have been from one to five bullets. Two bullets is certainly one of choice. There are no compositional data to indicate two and only two bullets."

Randich said that "Peer review and doing your homework is essential to good forensics," and Gunn's data had neither.

As for Guinn's work, Randich thinks that the holes in his research were probably deliberate and not accidental, as Guinn had financial stakes in the company that did the testing, and benefited from its use, and a motive not to do his homework or have peer review.

Randich's research was published as A Metallurgical Review of the Interpretation of Bullet Lead Compositional Analysis, E. Randich, W. Duerfeldt, W. McLendon and W. Tobin, Forensic Sci. Intl., vol. 127, 2002, led to a NAS/NRC study of the FBI's use of CBLA (Comparative Bullet Lead Analysis) in the courtroom, and as a result, the FBI ended 30 years of CBLA on September 1, 2005.

Also see: Proper Assessment of the JFK Assassination Bullet Lead Evidence from Metallurgical and Statistical Perspecives, E. Randlich and P. M. Grant, J. Forensic Sci., vol. 51, No. 4, July 2006.

Randich said to me privately that he believes that his pro bono work on this led to his loss of his job at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Of coruse the FBI and the Justice Department were not too happy to have one of their basic scientific tools shown to be wrong, and based on bad science, and have two hundred cases thrown out. The FBI visited the lab and intimidated Randich, but since he did the work on his own and not as part of his official work, there was nothing they could do about it.

Having read some newspaper reports about it, that Stu Wexler and some Texas A&M researchers did some similar work worth noting.[ and]

Randich also volunteered to have a look at the Tippit murder bullets if that case is ever officially reopened, and Roger Feinman's presentation certainly showed there is a lot that can be done with the Tippit case.

The best presentation by far was that of Dr. Henry C. Lee, Ph.D., the criminologist ("I'm not a pathologist or medical examiner!"), whose "A Criminalist Examines Three Crime Scenes" was laced with good humor yet hit the points he wanted to make.

Lee looked at all three – MLK, RFK and JFK crime scenes and focused on evidence that can still be reviewed and might shed new light on each case. In the JFK case, one thing that he said could still be done was to look for trace DNA on the bullets and fragments and trace fingerprints on the shell casings. If these presentations ever make it to YouTube, Dr. Lee's should certainly get some hits and hoots.

While Lee got some laughs, things tightened up considerbably when Jim Lesar, Esq. gave his straight and sober assessment on JFK Act Oversight Hearings, describing the law, its successes and shortcomings, the need for oversight hearings and the chances of them happening (none till next year). Jim read parts of his open letter to Rep. Waxman and Sen. Leiberman, chairman of the relevant committees, and said he got a phone call from each of their staff, and even had a meeting set up with one of them before it was suddenly postponed and then cancelled, with no real explaniation.
At sometime during the proceedings, Bob Groden showed a film of the assassination of President Kennedy, though I'm not sure which one, that shows a missed bullet hitting a curb, and I don't think it's the Tague bullet/fragment, but a different one. Though I didn't get a chance to talk with Groden, I will check in with him and see what else he has to say about this and clear things up, as I didn't get it all.

The final panel discussion, "Where do we go from here?" included more talk of possible Congressional Oversight Hearings on the JFK Act, the idea of a grand jury investigation, and the mobilizaiton of a response to the forthcoming HBO miniseries based on Bugliosi's book.

Not discussed is why someone does't produce a real documentary film on the real issues of the JFK assassination and tell the story of what really happened.

Although there was not much agreement on where we should go from here, there was a lot of new information brought out during this symposium, and there seems to be some major new developments in both the RFK and JFK cases, with some new people getting involved and some new ideas on how to officially reopen them.

As Peter Dale Scott said, this was one of the best conferences ever held, and much of that can be attributed to Cyril and his son Ben Wecht, the fine people the Cyril H. Wecht Institute of Forensic Science and Law, and the great facilites at Duquesne.

1. [sym·po·sium or sym·po·siums. Etymology: Latin, from Greek symposion, from sympinein to drink together, from syn- + pinein to drink. 1 a: a convivial party (as after a banquet in ancient Greece) with music and conversation b: a social gathering at which there is free interchange of ideas. 2 a: a formal meeting at which several specialists deliver short addresses on a topic or on related topics…]

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